EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin is being transformed with the influx of new residents and business owners who bring with them fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives that are enriching the area. Some individuals and families are still unpacking boxes, having only moved in the past month or two, while others made the move over the last few years and are now comfortably established in their new communities. Here are some of their stories.
by Heather Marshall
The 45-minute to hour-long daily commute on Hwy 401 to get to work gave Michael Proulx plenty of time to think about his busy day ahead as general manager of a chain of five restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It was a hectic routine he maintained for nearly two decades and one he pined to leave behind so he and his wife, Leslie, could pursue their dream of owning a bed and breakfast (B&B) outside the city. The pandemic, with its repeated opening and closings of businesses over the past two years, provided the motivation to finally make the move.
Both had lived not far from Manitoulin as children. Leslie was born in Sault Ste Marie, however the family moved to Oakville when she was a toddler and she spent the rest of her life in the GTA. Michael’s father was from Cape Croker First Nation, but he moved his family to nearby Purple Valley north of Wiarton where Michael grew up to give his kids exposure to the best of Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds.
Michael and Leslie each worked in the restaurant business while still in high school and following post-secondary studies, Leslie after taking courses at Sheridan College and Michael after attending Wilfred Laurier University where he studied business. They first met through their jobs in their early 20s and were friends for many years. Leslie confesses that, initially, she wasn’t overly fond of him, “but he grew on me.” So much so that they became a couple 15 years ago and married in 2017.
Leslie continued working sporadically managing restaurants during the pandemic “but our lives obviously changed. Michael went on to do other work, but I stayed in the business between layoffs. The past two years really made me rethink my career and our future.” Adds Michael, “Now in our 40s, we knew that it was now or never to make a major career change.”
The duo started exploring potential B&Bs in southern Ontario, checking out possible locations in Stratford and Bancroft, but “none of them really spoke to us.” That changed when Leslie found an online ad for The Twin Peaks B&B in Mindemoya—a place they had to look up on a map as neither had ever been to nor knew anything about Manitoulin.
“Leslie fell in love with it immediately and my only goal is to make my wife happy,” laughs Michael. “I was on a trip out of town at the time, but I was taken by the pictures when she showed me the listing. Once Leslie came up to look and I heard the excitement in her voice, I knew it was really promising. As soon as we stepped on this property and entered the house I became enthusiastic too. Ron Perrault and Cheryl Cashman had built a real gem here and we were sold.”
Within weeks they had completed the paperwork, sold their house in the city and put their furniture in storage. They moved into Leslie’s parents’ cottage outside Wasaga Beach to spend the winter until they could take possession of their dream property in mid-March.
Apart from owning their own business, another attraction of the area for Michael is the chance to spend more time discovering his Ojibwe heritage. He has already begun learning the history of Indigenous people on the Island and is eager to visit the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeng and attend powwows in local First Nations in the summer.
The couple only has a few weeks living in their new home under their belt, but they say they absolutely love everything about it. “It feels like the sun rises and sets over Mindemoya,” enthuses Leslie.
“We are out walking the land, figuring out what we want to do with it now that we’re here. We want to create beautiful outdoor spaces for guests and have a big garden to grow our own produce. We look forward to being a gateway to a lot of new people to discover how beautiful the Manitoulin is.”
Heather Marshall and her husband worked as journalists and consultants in the National Capital Region for more decades than they care to admit before making their Sandfield cottage their permanent home. A lifelong learner, Heather loves discovering new things and people and relishes the opportunity to write about newcomers to the Manitoulin. If you would like to share your story or know of recent arrivals we should meet, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org